Decompress on a Train through the West

Ride the American Orient Express through the west's most beautiful National Parks.

We haven't taken this train ride, but we read about it a while back, and have been dreaming about it ever since. While this could be fun with kids, it seems more like a romantic getaway for parents while the kids are in summer camp. Partly because it's expensive, partly because train rides offer a little less flexibility than is optimal when traveling with kids.

The trip takes nine days to wind through Grand Canyon National Park, Yellowstone National Park, and Grand Teton National Park. On the way, the train stops in Salt Lake City, Utah, Las Vegas, Nevada, Sedona, Arizona, and Santa Fe, New Mexico.

The accommodations are classic, yet modern. The fully restored vintage streamliner carriages have individual controls for air conditioning and heat, and most of the cars have a private shower and toilet. Also aboard are (of course) lounge and dining cars and a domed observation car with 360-degree views, which ought to make some great photography opportunities.

With prices beginning at over $5,000 per person, this is not a cheap trip, but it may make a great anniversary vacation. Click here for more information.

Has anyone out there ever taken this trip?

Backseat Roadtrip Office

Here's another tip for roadtripping with kids: Set them up with a backseat roadtrip office.

We got a Christmas present a few years ago that has worked out to be a great backseat office for kids. As far as I can tell, it's called an insulated seat back organizer, and it's made by Lewis N Clark. They don't seem to make the same product any more, but there are many similar products by other manufacturers (see below). The hanging seat back organizer straps around the top and bottom of the seat, has two insulated pockets, one of which is removable (velcro) to reveal a fold-down desk and three net pockets big enough for a water bottle, flashlight, and a point and shoot camera. The mini cooler is accessible to the backseat traveler as a place to store road snacks and juice boxes. The desk helps travelers keep their things from getting lost, or landing on the floor.

As I said, there are many other forms of hanging seat back storage caddies, just Google it or go to Amazon and search. There are even a few custom designed for kids such as this one.

But you don't have to buy a specially made seat back desk, in fact the design can be improved on if you build one yourself. By modifying a metal cookie tray with upturned sides, you can make a fold-down desk that will keep crayons from rolling off the sides. Even better, the metal tray will make magnetic toys games possible, and magnetic toys don't get dropped on the floor as easily, so there will be fewer 'back seat crises'.

If you've got some custom designs for back seat offices, send them in!

Five Family Travel Trends to Look For

According to the UK's Times online we family travelers ought to be on the look out for some new trends in our 2008 travels.

1. ‘Parent-Friendly’ will replace ‘child-friendly'
SiĆ¢n Williams, founder of Baby Friendly Bolt Holes expects more stuff for "mum and dad" in addition to the stuff aimed at quieting the kids. We've found this to be at least a little true with the creeping in of espresso machines at various Residence Inns (thank you Mr. Marriott).

2. More adventure family travel
"We are finding families requesting different itineraries for different ages, and going for the idea of being reunited at the end of the day around a bonfire, or authentic ‘asado’, to share stories about their day" says Emmanuel Burgio, founder of US-based travel boutique Blue Parallel. "We are getting particular requests for Peru, where there is much to learn about the culture, and natural wonders such as the Perito Moreno Glacier in Patagonia”.

3. Less adventure family travel
“I predict a growing trend for ‘soft’ family adventures throughout the world" forecasts Andrew Dunn, managing director and founder of Scott Dunn, who says that they're already experiencing this trend. "When the brood have grown bored of the beach, a soft family adventure is just the ticket for injecting fun, excitement, learning and passion for travel and culture into children’s lives. Having children does not mean the end of adventure, if anything it is just the beginning.

4. Reduced carbon footprint
Mandy Ley-Morgan, marketing manager of Luxury Family Hotels:"Over the past six months, we have noticed the average length of stays at our luxury family country hotels double from two nights to four. Our customers are now making the UK either their main or second holiday of the year - instead of previously having their big holidays abroad in France or Spain. Customers are telling us that they wish to reduce their carbon footprint, are fed up with long security airport queues and that there are now more family-friendly holiday options in the UK.”

5. Luggage kids can ride
"I know, having young children myself, that travelling with them can make holidays very stressful" says Justin Cole, general manager of OctopusTravel, "Trunki – the world’s first ride-on suitcase for kids - is a great idea to keep them amused - and it is practical as well!"

Our prediction:
Families will travel lighter in smaller cars while visiting national parks.
Travel destinations should learn to accommodate lighter travel to add value.

What do you see happening on the travel horizon?

Local Flavor is Infused into Local Restaurants

I traveled to Orlando this past week for the International Builder's Show. On the flight down, I was reading a book called Small Giants by Bo Burlingham. The subtitle is "Companies that choose to be great instead of big". It's like Good to Great for privately-held companies, like our business, WhistlePig Press. Anyway, I ran across an interesting few paragraphs in a chapter called The Mona Lisa Principal. Burlingham writes about a restaurant in Ann Arbor Michigain called Zingerman's Deli and quotes one of the owners, Ari Weinzweig, talking about the relationship between company and community.

"You're talking about something like what that the French call terroir. It has to do with the way the soil and climate in a given region contribute to the flavor of the food. That's because the soil's mineral content, the amount of sun and rainfall it gets, the local vegetation, and so on -- all that is different in each region. So lets say you're going to make cheese or wine using the same recipe in two different places. The animals in one place will be grazing on different vegetation from those in the other, and the grape vines will be growing in different soil and getting different amounts of sun and rain. Because the terroir is different, the cheese will be different, and the wine will be different, even if you follow the same process for making them. It's the same with some businesses. Every community has its own character, which is sort of a spiritual terroir".

The author then explains that the opposite is also true, that when a business is hermetically separated from a community, you can taste that too: "When you mass-produce food, you strive to take the terroir out. The whole idea is to remove any variations due to climate, soil, or season, much as companies that are spread out geographically strive to reduce variation and develop a common culture.

That's why it is so much better to eat at local restaurants than chain restaurants. Yes, we recommend Cracker Barrel. Cracker Barrel is great for driving because it's close to the highway, there's plenty of parking, the food is fast, family-style, and the atmosphere is kid-friendly (you can eat breakfast any time). And they have great gift shops for after supper (or breakfast as the case may be). We recommend Cracker Barrel as a matter of convenience; it's a predictable experience. As it turns out, there is wonderful regional variation in the food as well -- don't order fried catfish with beans and greens in New England, skip the clam chowder in the south, try the meatloaf in both places).

There must be some Tennessee terroir in the corporate culture at Cracker Barrel.

Getting Ready to Move to Our New Domain

We'll be moving to our new home,, soon. In the short term we'll probably just point the blogspot content to our site. In the intermediate term, we'll add extra content to the site, in the long term, we'll re-configure the blog, content, maps, and links. I don't expect to have everything figured out this week as I'm waiting in the airport right now for my flight to Orlando and the International Builder's Show.

More updates when I get back this weekend!

I Love My GPS!

I never thought I'd say it, but paper maps aren't the best way to travel.
There, I said it.

I'm a map guy. The bigger the better. In college, I used to tack US Forest Service maps on the wall in my office. They extended up onto the ceiling and down to the floor. After college, I worked as a biologist on a fishing trawler in the Bering Sea in Alaska. We had a Global Positioning System device on board, which basically tracked our position all over the open sea. It was a strange new device that cost a ton, but was worth it for fishing boasts in one of the most dangerous places on earth.

The GPS device we had on the Northwest Enterprise didn't have a little map; it simply told us our longitude and latitude which we used to plot our location on the charts. Fast forward twenty years, GPS devices are available in cell phones. My how times have changed.

But I'm a map guy. As useful as a GPS was on a fishing boat a hundred miles from land, I simply couldn't see the value in a teeny screen with a teeny map on it. Until Tinsley bought one for me for Christmas. For fun, I punched in a few addresses and had the device lead me around town, which seemed pretty useful. But the other night I had to attend a dinner party for work. It was a dark and foggy night and the house was on a skinny country road in west Connecticut. There was no way I could possibly read the street signs , mailbox numbers, or even see the lines on the road for that matter. But my new Magellan Maestro 3100 brought me there and home without a hitch.

I'll still use a road atlas for the big picture, but when I get to the city, or town, and need to find a particular address, I'll flip on my GPS and set my mind at ease. It even has little icons that point out gas stations, banks, and grocery stores.

I'm sold. Buy one.